Endurance runner continues to strive and inspire after heart transplant

OCEANSIDE, Calif. -- Six years ago, Derek Fitzgerald sat in a hospital bed at 128 pounds not sure how much longer he had to live.

“I was propped up on a hospital bed," said Fitzgerald. "I couldn’t breathe. I was ready to die. I had cancer. While chemo saved my life it killed my heart. I went through 7 years of heart failure. Until I was a veggie lying in a bed.”

Derek Fitzgerald

Now, thanks to a life-saving heart transplant, Fitzgerald feels more active than ever. The 44-year-old said he's completed over 80 endurance events, including multiple IRONMAN races. On April 1, he completed the Oceanside 70.3 Ironman.

"Ironman brings with it this immense challenge. 70.3 total miles. 1.2 mile swim. 56 mile bike ride. 13.1 mile run. That's a burden," said Fitzgerald. "That's a challenge for anyone. For me to get out there and as I’m swimming biking and running that's not so far ago that I was so sick I was going to die."

Fitzgerald said he doesn't just compete for himself, but he competes in honor of his donor.

"It's how I honor my donor who is a hero," said Fitzgerald. "Every heartbeat is someone else's. I celebrate the small portion of their legacy I carry with me and that's what I do."